Some cried, some booed. But few remained unmoved.
For two hours, hundreds of residents of Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, lived through the nearly four-year siege of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serbs.
For many, the Serbian premiere Friday of Michael Winterbottom’s “Welcome to Sarajevo” was the most realistic look they ever had at what the Bosnian capital experienced - the constant fear, death and misery, as well as the absurdity and immense sadness.
It left many with mixed feelings, some dumb with shock long after the lights came back on.
“This movie made us face what really happened there, something we didn’t want to do for years,” said Dusan Gajic, 27. “It was a shock, but it is something we must do.”
“It’s terrible. Why did they have to go all through all that?” said 55-year-old Jasmina Maric, wiping away tears. “I just can’t believe it happened.”
One group booed and jeered the movie, which interspersed documentary footage with staged scenes. Some even clapped at the appearance of Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb wartime leader who is sought by the U.N. war crimes tribunal.
“I think it was awful,” said one of those who was critical, Mirjana Stakic, 25. “I’m surprised that the whole audience did not leave the theater after 20 minutes.”
The movie did more than present Belgraders with Sarajevo’s tragedy. It also confronted the audience with a view official news media here never expresses: that Serbia must shoulder a great part of the guilt for the war, because of its support of rebel Bosnian Serbs.
Showered with official government propaganda of the “Serb victim” for years and largely isolated from Western reports about the Yugoslav crisis, most Serbians remain ignorant of what their politicians and fellow Serbs did in the war.
The official Tanjug news agency called the movie “morbid,” describing it as “an unscrupulous treatment of human tragedy.”
But psychologist Dragan Popadic said movies like “Welcome to Sarajevo” help deliver the truth to those prepared to face it.
Serbians do not trust politicians after nearly a decade of increasing hardship caused by the war and resulting international sanctions, Popadic said. They also have had little chance to talk to ordinary people on both sides of the trenches.
“War movies are both informative and cathartic,” he told the Associated Press. “They could also be the only way to see the events through somebody else’s eyes, independently.”